I’m honored again this year to be a part of The Heavy Purse’s Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival. For more information on this spectacular annual event, you can check out this link to The Heavy Purse. The subject for this year’s carnival is Getting Financially Real. Dave Ramsey refers to this as “facing the man (or woman) in the mirror. Getting financially real is often the most difficult part of a road to debt free, and often the reason so many people stay broke for so long. Personally, we had tried to get out of debt several times prior to our “real” attempt in January of 2013. And many times we succeeded at eliminating our debt, but we always fell right back into more debt. Why? Because we never got “financially real” with ourselves. We never saw “ourselves” as the problem. Instead, we blamed expenses that we “had no choice” over, our “lack” of income and a host of other things and circumstances. What we refused to blame up until January 2013, however, was ourselves. When we finally did place the blame for our financial situation where it belonged – in our lap – we dealt with some pretty tough months. It’s not easy accepting responsibility for a bad situation. It’s not easy looking yourself in the mirror and owning up to all of the choices you’ve made over the years that could’ve been made differently and resulted in a secure financial situation instead of a crapload of debt. The months that followed our choice to take responsibility for our debt were plagued with guilt, regret and sadness. We had a hard time forgiving ourselves for the bad choices we had made. When, however, we finally chose to let it go and focus on remedying the situation, that is when the REAL change began. We used all of the energy we’d been putting into guilt and regret into making our plan work. We learned how to budget, how to spend track, and how to earn more money. We began researching and implementing a more minimalist type of a lifestyle and a more self-sufficient lifestyle. We learned how to stop caring what the Joneses thought and start caring about what WE thought and wanted. And that, my friends, was a serious game-changer; it allowed us to start dumping debt for good, because we no longer wanted to be in debt, no matter what ANYONE thought.
How We Got Financially Real, and How You Can Too
Here’s a summary of the steps we took in order to get financially real. They’re not all easy, but they are all beneficial when it comes to taking control of your financial life:
1. We wrote down our numbers and faced up to the financial facts of how much we owed, to whom we owed it, and how much it was costing us each month.
2. We went back and tracked our previous year’s spending using bank statements and credit card bills. This was tough. Three months in we realized that we had been piddling away LOTS of money.
3. We analyzed our financial choices over the decades and thought about how things could’ve been different if we’d made different choices.
4. We allowed ourselves to be upset, sad, depressed, angry, etc. about our situation – for a time. This is key. Pity parties are okay as long as they’re temporary.
5. We created a budget, a spend-tracking sheet (we use a simple Excel spreadsheet) and a plan for paying down our debt.
6. We continued to analyze our plan on a regular basis and revise it when necessary.
7. We committed to sticking with the plan – no matter what. This is key. Setbacks almost always come when you create a plan to get out of debt. Don’t let them get you down or cause you to give up. Be stronger than the setbacks that come your way. These are the 7 steps to getting financially real that have been working for us. For the last two years, we’ve been successfully eliminating our debt. There have been some bumps in the road and some setbacks, but the numbers are indeed going DOWN.
Getting financially real is an integral part of our three steps to being prepared and self-sufficient. My dear friends, don’t short-change yourselves when it comes to financial freedom. Instead, choose to get financially real with yourself and start pursuing the financial life I know you can have. Facing the man/woman in the mirror might be tough, but if you stick to your plan, it’ll be well worth it.
My real moment came when I opened up my foreclosure notice on my home. I paid off almost 80K in under three years and never looked back. Every time I write an article I write with this in mind – how best to communicate how real you’ll need to get if you’re serious about getting out of debt. Look forward to reading these articles.
Wow, Maureen, that’s quite a “real moment”. SO happy for you that you got the message and freed yourself from your debt load. Huge congrats, my friend!
Laurie, I agree with you that seeing the actual numbers of what I have and I owe is one surest way that made me realize that I had much debt, which result in me getting more side hustles to pay this debt off. Happy that I’d written those numbers down. It’s really different when it is in visual.
It makes a difference, doesn’t it, Jayson! You got this, my friend. 🙂
Really great post! It’s so true about #4. If you don’t go through all those emotions, they come up middway through the process, making it that much harder to go gungho paying off all your debt.
That was a tough one for us to handle, but eventually we learned how to do it in a healthy way. Thanks, Amanda!
That is a good list you have compiled to get financially real. I think a lot of people put their blinders on when it comes to dealing with debt. I agree the first step is to look at how you got into that situation and make some life changes and a plan to get out of it.
It’s SO easy to hide your head under the pillow, but it won’t solve the debt problem. 🙁 Thanks, FF!
I love this post. It was so hard for me to realize I was to blame. Years of blaming life, situation, circumstances and facing the reality that this girl here was the reason for my financial mess was hard but I got over it. I love your steps, similar to what we did. We also repeat our steps too. Thank you for this post friend.
I definitely think that the only way to get financially real is to truly look yourself in the mirror and give yourself an honest assessment. Like you guys, we definitely inflated our lifestyles and made poor choices early on in our adult lives and we could blame the advertisers or credit cards, but it had everything to do with us. The great thing is though that getting out of a mess is completely within our hands as well and we have become empowered by our smarter money choices.
“…We never saw “ourselves” as the problem. Instead, we blamed…” Yes, Laurie…1000x Yes! This is probably the #1 reason people don’t get out of debt and improve their financial lives. It’s always the fault of something or someone else. Thinking that way keeps you captive to bad habits. No more victim thinking people…the issue is staring at you in the mirror.
I love how you broke down into specific steps what you had to do to be financially real. That’s probably so helpful for people just getting started with being Financially Real.
You are doing great Laurie and I’m so excited for you to continue on with your debt journey! We are both going to beat our debt and I can’t wait to celebrate with you 🙂
Got Michael Jackson stuck in my head now….
Loving these stories about the turning points for people. I’ve written about my own before. Everyone has a moment where things really change…I’ve always liked thinking about how lucky I was for those turning points. Most of the time, it’s just dumb luck that some circumstance got me to wake up and make the necessary changes.
If things bounced just a little differently, I might be on the same path…
I’m afraid some people never get real, so congrats for facing it head on. I’m always impressed by your motivation and attitudes toward paying off debt.
Great post Laurie! I think for most people facing up to their financial reality is the toughest first step, but you can’t move forward unless you know where you stand.
All about changing your behavior with money. Mostly your bad behavior. Once you hold yourself accountable and stop making excuses you can begin to make a change. It took us a long time to realize that. Once we did thought it got easier and easier to win with our money.
I love how real you guys are! Facing the financial facts can be hard when we feel like we deserve to spend. These are great reminders!
Great post Laurie! I can relate to so much of this. Like you, we tried to get rid of our debt lots of time before finally getting financially real with ourselves. The reason we failed was because we didn’t see ourselves as the problem. It was only when we accepted that the debt was our own fault that we began to move forwards.
Accepting responsibility is a big step and one that many don’t want to make. When I looked at my student loan debt, I just chalked it up as “good debt” and debt that everyone nowadays faces. I blamed the monthly loan payments for not saving as much as I could, but when I finally added up my expenses, I realized that I had some leaks and that I could save more. I also was able to get rid some of the higher interest student loan debt which was a great feeling of relief.
I think sometimes owning our mistakes is one of the hardest things to do. You are certainly not alone in struggling to do so, Laurie. I’m glad you and Rick were able to look in the mirror, admit mistakes and most importantly move forward. I absolutely agree that we should allow ourselves to feel, even the occasional pity party, but like you said, it needs to be temporary. We need to let go, forgive and keep going. The 7 steps you outlined are great and it makes so proud to see how far you’ve come, Laurie. Thank you again for your participation and support. It means a lot to me!
Continuing to monitor is SOO important. It’s not something you can get on autopilot and expect to ”just work”.
I think what you described is a pretty good summary of what most people need to do to “get real”. I hadn’t heard of the “financial literacy carnival”. I’ll have to check out some other posts.
Beautiful post! I totally relate to this and I am so glad that you included forgiving yourselves for the choices that you made. I think sometimes we beat ourselves up for the choices that we’ve made instead of learning from them.
Writing down all the numbers was a major wake up call for us as well! But it’s such a critical step in the process. We really had only a vague sense of how much debt we had prior to doing that. Knowing exactly what the number was felt overwhelming, but we had to know in order to do something about it. Our debt load has been going down every quarter since 2012, so we are making progress. But not quite there yet! We will get there, and so will you guys. Great post!
It sounds like you faced the music, and I think that’s awesome! Too many people live in denial and never do anything to change. Sometimes all it takes is facing reality.
It took a while for me to get real and realize that just because it’s student loan debt, doesn’t mean it was “good debt.” I wasted so much $$ not using it correctly and telling myself it’s okay because it’s “good debt.” The same with my credit card debt. I let it get out of hand because, “soon I’ll have a job and can pay it down in no time.” It led to unhealthy spending habits that took a while to reign back in. Lessons learned though.
I’ve never been able to do #4. I’m like the tin man. :/
Tracking spending was what forced me to “get real”. Wow – it was so incredibly eye-opening to see what we were spending, without even realizing it!
Going line by line through our expenses was our most eye-opening money moment. We’d always been frugal, but once we really got serious about working towards financial independence, we realized there were lots of areas where we could save more. It really is about us and our own choices–like you said, it’s useless to blame the situation or other people, we’ve got to change ourselves. Your story is inspiring, Laurie!
I remember the “piddling money away” days so clearly. I had no idea that I was even doing it. Some days I still get a little lax but I catch myself pretty fast. There is nothing worse than logging onto my bank account and seeing less than I expected because of too many $2-5 purchases, ya know?
Love how you added that you continued to analyze the plan. It would be so easy if good financial decisions were always set and forget, but reviewing and getting in the moment data can be so revealing!
I agree!! We analyze our plan on a weekly basis or so, and it really helps!
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